It is interesting to think about how companies and household names got their start. Most big-name companies did not start out that way but were taken to the next level by talented individuals put into leadership. Here are 21 famous transformational leadership examples.
1. Oprah Winfrey: Media Mogul
Oprah Winfrey, sometimes called the “Queen of All Media,” hosted The Oprah Winfrey Show from 1986 to 2011. It was the highest-rated talk show in history, and Winfrey became the richest African American of the 20th century. She was also North America’s first black multi-billionaire. Time Magazine named her one of the most influential people in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. Winfrey’s communication skills, beginnings in poverty, and charismatic leadership enabled her to connect with people from diverse backgrounds, inspiring people to dream big. A Forbes article from October 2010 reported that Winfrey is a leader to emulate as she is able to inspire her staff to execute her vision while maintaining mass appeal. The article went on to deconstruct her leadership as having three branches: her team, vision and values. As for her values, she has spread her wealth through her Oprah Winfrey Foundation and several other philanthropic ventures.
2. Condoleezza Rice: Former 20th U.S. National Security Advisor, Former 66th U.S. Secretary of State
Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, when it was still racially segregated, Rice’s parents taught her that she had to be twice as good. She grew up working twice as hard to be twice as good, and ending up having a natural confidence about her capabilities. For Rice, leadership is not about gender or title, but confidence and perseverance. Her philosophy has served her well. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Rice as the first woman to hold the post of National Security Adviser. In 2004, he nominated her to become Secretary of State. Rice played a key role in trying to stop the nuclear threat from North Korea and Iran while serving as Secretary of State. Time Magazine named Rice as one of the world’s most influential people in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Rice currently serves as director of the Hoover Institution.
3. H. Ross Perot: Electric Data Systems
Former IBM employee H. Ross Perot launched Electric Data Systems in 1962. His new company built and repaired computer systems for their clients. Rather than just copy IBM’s management style, Perot empowered his employees to satisfy their clients without the need to seek supervisory approval. Perot was convinced that rank and file were able to make smart decisions without delay, which in turn would mean greater customer and employee satisfaction. Perot felt the strategic-planning top-down traditional model of middle management was an obstacle to quick decision making. In 1984, Perot sold EDS for $2.6 billion to GM.
4. Reed Hastings: Netflix
Netflix was founded in 1997 with Reed Hastings as one of the founders and CEO. This subscription-based video streaming service offers original content alongside popular movies, TV, and documentary titles. When it first launched, Netflix was a DVD rental company that surpassed the leader at the time, Blockbuster, as a favorite of movie lovers. Hastings, coming from the software business, had a grander vision, unfettered by any entertainment experience to stand in his way. He introduced streaming, and his gamble paid off. Today Netflix has about 192.95 million subscribers worldwide, and is the largest online streaming provider of video content.
5. Jeff Bezos: Amazon
It was a little-known online bookselling company back in 1994 with Jeff Bezos as its CEO. The plan was to sell books online and hopefully break even eventually. Amazons stock boosted about 5000 percent between 1994 to 1997 and later that year took on another transformational format in creating an eReader market by introducing their Kindles. Bezos bet that he could change the way we read books by turning them into digital content, where many books can be loaded on one device for consumption. Transforming book sales, and later introducing multi-product sales has given Amazon a market value of $1.14 trillion as of April 2020.
6. Hubert Joly: Best Buy
Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly took on the troubled electronics store in 2012 as rumors of its impending doom were abound everywhere. Industry leaders were convinced Amazon would bury Best Buy in a matter of months. Joly’s vision was to take the technology store that sold CD’s to become the store that didn’t just sell products but aimed to enrich people’s lives with the technology of the types of products sold. They transformed their product lines, delivery times, introduced price matching, and, most importantly, began to advise customers rather than just try to make a sale to them. Their July 2012 stock price was sliding at $23.70 and slowly began to rise with the changes to what is now about $120 as of October 2020 with a market cap of $31.29 billion.
7. Gregg Stienhafel: Target
Gregg Stienhafel, CEO of Target, inherited a major retailer with annual slipping sales. In 2004, under the previous CEO, their online web presence was handled by Amazon. Stienhafel saw the writing on the wall after taking over, and in 2011, Target brought back their digital presence under their roof to create a new online design that purposely blurred the lines between eCommerce and physical stores. Four hundred stores were immediately equipped with modern technology and curbside pick-up from online purchases. They transformed a stogey, old school social media presence to consistently engaging with followers and customers online. The stock went from a low of $53 in 2006 to around $164 as of October 2020.
Hasbro’s choice to refocus social media on parents as well as targeting to parents in their stores taught the company lots in how digital strategies done right can generate income. Part of the digital transformation strategy in social media was through better storytelling and video content. Nostalgic brands were used to connect to new audiences in an Omni-channel blitz designed to build trust online. The transformation was not a cheap venture. Hasbro increased its ad spend by 1100%, also increasing sales by $1 billion. The stock went from $36 in 2013 to about $87 as of October 2020.
9. Craig Menear: Home Depot
Up until about 2013, Home Depot was an excellent place to drive over and grab what you needed for your special project. Craig Menear took over as CEO in 2014 and finally introduced a refined and robust IT department to fuel a significant transformation change coming. They invested about $11 billion in the improvement of both the physical and online shopping experiences. Menear’s ambition was to create a seamless shopping experience across all channels by providing the most relevant products and services to customers. The investment also included building up the back-end distribution channels. Blurring the line between online and real-life shopping appears to be working as the stock has risen from $135 in early 2017 to $286 as of October 2020.
10. Satya Nadella: Microsoft
In 2014, Satya Nadella took over as the new CEO at Microsoft. He was to bring about one of the biggest transformational changes the company had ever seen. For example, there was a major shift in cloud networking services. The focus, it was decided, was to move away from traditional software products and toward a more fluid cloud system solution for both personal and enterprise customers. Public perception was changed as Microsoft went from an old school stagnant company to a forward-thinking one with cloud solutions ready for business and today’s personal lifestyles. Stocks increased from $38 in early 2014 to $214 as of October 2020.
Nike was beginning to look a bit sluggish and outdated a few years ago, and during a period of self-reflection, it was agreed a mindset change was needed. The plan was to reinvent itself through a digital transformation of its brand and supply chain. Nike connected with customers by creating membership opportunities, stronger digital marketing, and studying its now powerful data analytics. Nike began to sell directly to customers by partnering with companies like Amazon as part of an updated eCommerce strategy. This, in turn, gave Nike a faster product development cycle, quickly responding to trends and feedback. Nike took its stock price from $52 in 2017 to $88 today.
12. David Cote: Honeywell
In 2016, David Cote, CEO of Honeywell, saw that focusing on quality and leveraging digital solutions was the way of the future. Honeywell began to use big data in its transformation to identify the best product spinoffs and movements for the company. They also used big data to help customers understand their products as well. One of the major benefits was in sales of IoT (Internet of Things) devices. Since its renewed effort began, Honeywell’s stock has grown from $95 per share in 2016 to $128 as of October 2020.
13. William Edwards Deming: Quality Control Statistics
The father of quality control statistics, William Edwards Deming, worked as a consultant for the U.S. government and moved to Japan shortly after World War II to help with agricultural production and related problems. He saw that his methods to increase productivity while eliminating waste could impact Japan’s other industries, especially manufacturing. His personal goal was to help Japan become a world industrial power in five years. Japan succeeded as a global power in four years. It took many years for his teachings in quality control and efficiencies to make their way back to the United States (1980’s) where they set root.
14. Peter Drucker: Entrepreneurship
Peter Drucker was a transformational leader, working as a management consultant and professor primarily. He predicted the rise of Japan’s economy as a global power, the age where people would need to learn in an effort to keep their jobs or advance in their career, and the value of marketing and innovation. Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker.” He transformed the industry’s understanding of what a worker would be in the future as well as what entrepreneurship would entail. He saw this as a vehicle of innovation. Entrepreneurship was not just about high technology; it was also a vehicle for change in behavior, attitude, and values.
15. Nelson Mandela: Former President of South Africa, Anti-Apartheid Revolutionary
Nelson Mandela would become known as one of the most famous transformational leaders in the world. During his time as the leader of South Africa, Mandela successfully used the country’s love of sports in 1995’s Rugby World Cup as a medium to promote reconciliatory efforts, which instilled a sense of nationalistic pride in all of South Africa’s peoples. His promotion of rights to all citizens through this event was a major factor in elevating public awareness of equality.
16. John D. Rockefeller: Standard Oil
Standard Oil was founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1870. This humble little oil company grew into a global giant, at one point, controlling about 93% of all oil in the United States. Rockefeller brought a unified vision to his companies. He focused on quality products and guiding his employees toward a single vision and objective and ensuring everyone, including himself, was accountable to see them achieved.
17. Richard Branson: Virgin
Richard Branson’s Virgin empire is based on his philosophy of management that believes that the leaders must motivate employees appropriately for the business to be successful overall. He believes that if the leaders can motivate the teams, the employees will use their creative potential to overcome the tough times and bond better. His transformational style of leadership ensures that happy employees will always perform better together and as a company. He has learned to take risks in his leadership and, most importantly, treats all employees with respect.
18. Paul Cobban: DBS
Asian-based DBS Bank revenues were slowly being chipped away by fintech disrupters becoming more popular with their ease of use and cheaper offerings. Newly appointed COO, Paul Cobban, saw that DBS’s corporate strategy was lacking in customer focus. Cobban introduced a new mantra in order to transform the company strategy to return to a customer-centric focus. The RED mantra: Respect, Easy to deal with, and Dependable reshaped the company’s customer service levels significantly. DBS rose to the challenge and gave the fintech startups enough of a digital challenge to retain and welcome back a substantial clientele.
19. Jonathan Becher: SAP
Jonathan Becher, Chief Digital Officer for SAP, quickly realized that company culture was a concern in his area. Becher saw that there was a need for the business to be more hands-on in its approach to its future rather than leaving it to input from outside experts. It took a bit of time, but SAP made the tweaks necessary to use internal SMEs after the proper tools were given to them to change, learn to adapt, and enhance their skills. Becher also saw that the company needed to accept that failure will happen and to see it as a learning tool and not a negative part of the business.
20. Jeff Boyd and Glenn Fogel: Priceline
Jeff Boyd and Glenn Fogel, of Priceline, saw that the process to book travel was cumbersome and focused more on the agent and agency rather than on the customer’s needs. They collaborated together and reinvented travel reservations by charging lower commission fees. They began by focusing on smaller niche markets: inns, B&Bs, and apartments. Eventually, this grew with the acquisition of Booking.com. From almost being absorbed during the dot-com bubble burst, the Priceline Group is now the world’s largest online travel company.
21. Steve Jobs: Apple
Steve Jobs retook his seat back with Apple and transformed the company from a computer business to a music and phone device behemoth. Along the way, Tim Cook extended Job’s vision, maintaining focus on innovation, and improving features of current device lines. The company shifted focus initially from a product-based identification to one that promotes services and brand loyalty through innovative hardware and software. Brand loyalty has allowed the company to introduce software and content service subscriptions to great fanfare.
Maybe you are someone who owns their own business that is struggling to stay afloat, or maybe you are someone who wants to make a difference in your community but you don’t know where to start. These 21 stories show that nothing is impossible with the right amount of effort and the correct leadership that can transform your company, and your world, from the ground up.
Keith Miller has over 25 years of experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.